Content warning: This post contains images of a deceased baby, and may be triggering for some readers.
Each and every day, I find myself reflecting on how bittersweet my life is.
I have two beautiful children, a wonderful, loving husband, a supportive family, cherished friends, a job that I love, and a nice home. However, despite all the things I do have, there is one thing I don’t have, that I long for every day.
I am one of those women who loves being pregnant. I have relatively easy (insofar as much as the words easy and pregnancy go hand in hand!), uncomplicated and somewhat uneventful pregnancies. I have always enjoyed seeing the grainy, black and white images of the tiny humans created by my husband and me. For me, little compares to catching those first glimpses of your unborn baby.
When my husband Matt and I went for my 20 week ultrasound for our third baby, it never entered either of our minds that something would be wrong. I had this whole pregnancy thing down pat, the 20 week ultrasound was, for me, simply another photoshoot for my baby.
Looking back now, that ultrasound took a long time. The sonographer left the room to consult with the doctor (surprisingly I was still blissfully unaware that anything was wrong) and Matt took this opportunity to duck to the toilet. The doctor entered the room, took possession of the transductor and proceeded to tell me we had “another bump in the road” – I had previously opted for a blood screening after my 12 week ultrasound revealed I had a relatively high chance of my baby being born with chromosomal abnormalities (to our relief the blood test results were negative).
As we sat side-by-side in the doctor’s office, we discovered the “bump in the road” was no bump at all, but a complete demolition of the road, and of life as we knew it. To the right of me I heard an animalistic cry of pain. Shocked and in confusion, I turned to see what it was. It was my husband. It wasn’t until I glanced over at him and saw him sobbing, that I fully comprehended the situation.
The words “not compatible with life” will forever remain etched in my mind as the most devastating words ever spoken to me. My precious daughter, Olivia, would not survive out of utero.
Olivia was diagnosed with bilateral muliticystic kidney dysplasia (MCDK). MCDK is a common condition in which one kidney doesn’t form correctly during utero.
The affected kidney is covered in cysts, but fortunately the remaining unaffected kidney is usually able to take over all kidney function. In Olivia’s case, both her kidneys were affected. The kidneys are responsible for the production of amniotic fluid, which in turn supports foetal lung development.
The next 17 days passed in a blur of medical appointments, second opinions, personal research, and consultations with various experts.
We were essentially faced with two devastating options; continue with my pregnancy and deliver Olivia, via caesarean section (her abdomen would be too large due to swollen kidneys to deliver her vaginally), and have her pass away in our arms within hours after birth, or to be induced just shy of 23 weeks, deliver Olivia vaginally, and have her slip away peacefully either during birth or within minutes of her birth. After an incredibly painful fortnight, Matt and I both agreed on the latter.
Initially, I was determined to carry Olivia to full term and meet her as a term baby and spend those precious hours with her. After much research and receiving advice from medical experts, I discovered that during those few hours, Olivia would be struggling for breath due to her undeveloped lungs.
As much as I wanted to spend those only hours I would ever have with my daughter, I could not allow her short life to be lived in pain. I also considered the impact prolonging my pregnancy, despite the same outcome, would have on my two older children.
After a 10 hour labour, Olivia Rose Grace was born on the evening of 26 February 2015. She was born in the caul - babies who are born in the caul are said to be blessed with good luck and have a natural affinity with water.
She was absolutely beautiful and looked remarkably like her older sister, Emily. Olivia’s heart beat for one minute after her birth and she slipped quietly away in my husband’s and my arms. During that one precious minute, Matt and I spoke to her and told her just how much we love her.
I like to believe that Olivia left this world knowing the gentle touch of her parents, the sound of our voices and the fact that she was, and forever will be, loved immensely.
Our children came to the hospital to see their baby sister the very next morning. It was important to Matt and I that Andrew and Emily knew their sister. Olivia’s grandparents also met their granddaughter and a handful of our close friends came to meet Olivia. My husband and I are fortunate to have loving and supportive family and friends who have helped us gain much needed strength in times of need.
36 hours after Olivia was born, I kissed her goodbye and placed her in the arms of the kind midwife who had been supporting us. She was dressed in an Angel Gown that was made from the train of my wedding dress and looked exactly like that, an angel. This was the last time I would ever lay eyes on my daughter. I left the hospital supported, both physically and emotionally, by Matt.
A tribute to all the babies we have lost (post continues after video):
It’s now been just over 14 months since Olivia was born. Recently we spent Olivia’s first birthday without her. This weekend was my second Mother’s Day without her.
The days pass quickly, caught up in the whirlwind that is work, school, preschool, sport and social commitments. On the outside, I come across as strong and resilient, and I suppose in most ways I am. But it is only those parents who have lost a baby who know that this journey is lifelong.
There is that constant heavy feeling in your heart, the cruel reminder of your loss when you see friends’ babies, who are of similar age to what your daughter would be, achieve milestones that you’ll never see your daughter achieve and celebrate birthdays that your daughter will never celebrate.
Then there are the times you’re wandering the shops and see a baby girl and dissolve into tears. Or the times when well-meaning strangers and friends of friends casually ask, “So you’ve just got the two children?” And most heartbreakingly, when your son is shaking uncontrollably and crying because he is terrified of dying “…like Olivia did”.
This certainly isn’t a journey I had planned for myself and my family, and one I wouldn’t invite even my worst enemy along for the ride, however, Olivia’s death has not been in vain. I am a better person, a better mother, because of her.
I see the beauty in unexpected places and I am so grateful that she was in my life, if only briefly. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a mother, I know there are far too many women out there who would give anything to have a baby in their arms.
We speak Olivia’s name every day and keep her memory alive. Despite the fact that Olivia is no longer with us, she will forever remain a part of our lives. I am, and always will be, the proud mother of three beautiful children.
For further support call the Miscarriages, Stillborns and Newborn Death Support Hotline 1300 072 637.